Afghan refugees bound for the United States have found temporary respite at a joint US-Italy naval base, NAS Sigonella where they told The New Arab about their perilous journey leaving Kabul, and their expectations upon arriving in the United States.
Abdul-Hadi hits nervously at his phone while waiting to board the plane bound to Philadelphia. When he landed a few days ago in Sigonella, he knew he was one step forward to a new life. However, he didn’t imagine the strain that leaving behind a pregnant wife would bring to him.
“I had to choose: being killed by the Taliban or hope to see her again one day. I choose the latter,” he says shaking his head and touching the heart with his right hand.
Abdul-Hadi was an employee at the Minister of Justice and, as many other Afghans hosted in Sigonella, he moved to Kabul overnight as soon as the Taliban took over. In the base, more than 4,000 Afghans wait patiently for their turn to be evacuated to the United States, while the U.S military continues its efforts to speed up the flights and reduce the stress on them.
The Italian-U.S joint airbase of Sigonella suddenly become a crucial transit station in Europe since the start of the operation to evacuate the civilians threatened by the Taliban. Every day, the staff at the airbase process four flights and hundreds of people. The centre is complete with temporary accommodations, medical tents, recreational and religious spaces.
“I thought it was a good idea working for the government because gives you many benefits and a better quality of life. But now that the Taliban are in charge, who worked for the Afgan government is on a death list. The result is that I am displaced with no chance to get back home soon. I hope the U.S could bring my wife eventually. The only thing I said was goodbye” says Abdul Hadi while a Marines in charge of the registration cut off the discussion. He had to rush and get his flight.
A similar story comes from Adnan, an employee at the U.S embassy in Kabul. “I had to move from the capital as soon as they closed the embassy. We all knew the Taliban were after the Afghans who worked with foreigners, particularly with Americans.”
“The international community shouldn’t trust their proclaims and their calls for unity. The Taliban considers you a traitor either you were a minister, an interpreter or a cleaner. In Afghanistan, this means death,” Adnan says.
According to the United Nations, the swift Taliban military offensive has been characterised by “direct targeting of civilians, civil society and journalists, summary executions, assassination of human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, mass executions of civilians, and unlawful restrictions on the human rights of women and girls.”
In this situation, women are particularly affected by the new rulers of Afghanistan. The Sharia, which is the ideological and political system the Taliban aims to, heavily restricted the rights and freedom for women.
“As soon as the Taliban arrived in Mazar Sharif, my parents took me to Kabul. They knew I wouldn’t survive because of my background and my work for women rights” says Manishza.
She is a student in political science and should have graduated in September when the sudden advance of the Taliban bring back the country to another century. Unless other women in Afghanistan she was lucky enough to pass through the checkpoints set by the militants all around the Karzai airport.
“At the beginning, Taliban deny access to the airport for the women. Then, they realised there were too many people and loosen the controls to the gate. It was a nightmare to be in Kabul during the evacuation. There were gunfire, traffic jam, and people screaming everywhere. Now I only want to get a new life in the U.S with the hope to see my family again.”
As thousands of Afghans and their families who worked with the Western troops remain stranded in the country, many questions arise about the U.S government’s agenda to provide extra support to bring them out.
U.S officials in Sigonella avoid comments about any political evaluation and bounce back questions on reporters who asked if a new operation to rescue vulnerable Afghans left behind is on the horizon.
“Strategies to bring to safety additional people are developed in Washington” stated the base Commander at Sigonella Capt Kevin Pickard. “From our side, we will continue with all our resources available to carry as many people as possible who want to come to the United States.”